Much of the Civil War was fought on Virginia soil, and now the commonwealth is taking the lead in commemorating the sesquicentennial of that conflict.
The newly formed African-American Heritage Alliance and Friends of Wilderness are cosponsoring Civil War-related events on Saturday in Culpeper. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., a four-hour symposium, “Anguish and Freedom: The Yankees Descend upon Culpeper,” will be presented in the Daniel Center at Germanna Community College in Culpeper.
The symposium includes beverages and morning snacks. Three experts on the Civil War will speak on topics relevant to what was going on in the Culpeper area during the summer of 1862.
Culpeper had become a major focus of the belligerents due to the arrival of Maj. Gen. John Pope and 70,000 federal troops under his command. The buildup led to the fierce Battle of Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, a bus will depart the Daniel Center for a tour titled “The Rappahannock: A River to Freedom.” The four-hour tour is $60, and will take people to places relevant during the Civil War.
Clark “Bud” Hall, a Civil War historian with expertise in Culpeper history, will lead the tour. He will offer insights into the cultural dynamics that were occurring when slaves on local plantations learned that Union troops were nearby.
Some of the slaves fled toward what they hoped would be their Yankee liberators. One of the stops on the bus tour will be a river crossing favored by slaves making bids for freedom.
“One of the things that makes this symposium and bus tour different is we’re not just talking about military [issues] and precursors to the Battle of Cedar Mountain, but civilian aspects as well,” said Zann Nelson, cofounder of AAHA.
“The first speaker at the symposium, John Hennessy, is the chief historian for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Park. He is going to be talking about [Abraham] Lincoln and his legislative challenges at the time.
“On one hand, Lincoln is being pushed to emancipate the slaves, but on the other hand, he’s worried because doing that could lose some of the border states. And he’s not winning the war, and is looking to change the dynamics.
“He brings in John Pope, and they institute a new philosophy called ‘total war.’ It’s where you take the war to the civilian population, not just to the enemy soldiers.”
James Bryant, author and professor of history at Shenandoah University, will pick things up from there. During his portion of the symposium, he will expand on the issues of emancipation.
A part of the professor’s talk will center on what was occurring within the slave population at the time, and how it affected their owners. Nelson said records show that starting in the summer of 1861, slaves started what is termed “self-emancipation” by fleeing toward nearby Union troops.
“The slave owners reacted to this situation in many cases by moving their slaves deeper south,” said Nelson, former director of the Museum of Culpeper History.
“There is documentation that several slaves here in Culpeper were locked in the local jail awaiting transport to Richmond. This was done to prevent their proximity to Union liberators.”
By midpoint in the war, the Union gave black men the opportunity to join the military and fight. Howard Lambert, cofounder of AAHA, has been a re-enactor with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry for more than 20 years.
The 54th was the focus in the 1989 Academy Award-winning film “Glory.” Howard was one of the re-enactors in the film.
“Re-enacting has been a passion of mine for a long time, but it wasn’t until ‘Glory’ that I actually got with other colored re-enactors,” said Howard, who is from Culpeper. “Like Zann, I do a great deal of research on black history.
“We created the alliance in order to research and then disseminate information about African-American history. We’re looking for people who have some degree of expertise and a desire to look into things we’re focusing on.
“We’re not just about dates and places. We want to add some flesh to the bone.”
Daniel Sutherland, chair of the history department at the University of Arkansas, will do that during the conclusion of the symposium. He will speak about how the Civil War specifically affected Culpeper and its citizens.
Sutherland is particularly well suited for this subject. One of the 13 books he has authored, “Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community,” focuses on Culpeper.
The final event of the day will be a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. at Holly Hill in Reva. The event, “An Evening with Dan Sutherland,” will include food and Virginia wines. It costs $50.
“People can attend one or all three of the events,” Nelson said. “I think Civil War programs traditionally haven’t spoken to African-Americans because they’ve [rarely] been included.
“They haven’t included the stories of refugees, self-emancipation and their service in the military. We want to tell that story, too.
“Hopefully we can reach the African-American population to let them know that this is their history as well. And a big, big piece of their history.”
The symposium, “Anguish and Freedom: The Yankees Descend upon Culpeper,” is from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Daniel Center at Germanna Community College in Culpeper. The event is free and includes beverages and light snacks.
The bus tour, “The Rappahannock: A River to Freedom” is from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and leaves from the Daniel Center. The fee is $60. Those interested should contact Nelson immediately to learn of remaining seating availability. She can be reached at (540) 547-2395 or by email at M16439 @aol.com.
The reception, “An Evening with Dan Sutherland,” will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Holly Hill in Reva. Cost is $50 and includes food and wine. Attire is casual, and directions are providedwith confirmation. To register, visit www.fowb.org or contact Nelson.